for mothers in houses with children

This is the sound of someone rowing hard, hard
to get to the other side before it is over
rowing hard to get to love before sorrow sets in
hard to get across this huge water of illusion
to love
before it is over
and the children have passed into forgetfullness
and there is nothing to do
but sweep and moan
what was lost on the banks before my docking



So many careless bodies in this vessel called a house
sanctuary, prison, saloon
through a bottle of pickled emptiness
a brigade of uninvited soldiers march through
marchers with dung boots
beggars turned thieves
Angels hover down over tables where things are ritually spilled
fermented cakes crumble here and spoons
march in and out of things
Sometimes merrymakers come
and the sound of very small bells can be heard over the drumming
I am their witness
a nothing that moves by standing
the pivot of the grindstone
who knows about the holding of this point?
In this world they think that the work is done stone to stone
or by the waters pressing on downstream,
or paddles with a kind of moan on their lips
I am a weapon on the strand of nowhere
an old wound, a callous
and nothing knows my name
The rushing stream of cars in front of windows
is passing this place in a valley
This house with a twisted expression
is a vessel full of sun and chains
where wise men have drawn water and gone walking
sprinkling it like something holy over the hills
chanting blessings
throwing petals
all from this unnamable source
The travelers drop me postcards from the cities of their tours
cards of consolation
they say:  some day you will be out of it
you will come here too
we all know that this life of the ground
is one of God’s jokes
he seldom undoes these little arrangements
I am playing marbles with God on a precipice
carved out by the movements of vulture wings and angels
Other people here are decorating their houses
I have decorated my house with children
Still, I try to act as if I live a normal life in America in the 21st century
Which is to say
That the children live in someone else’s house most of the time
And show up dressed for pictures
Except that they don’t
They are here!
In all of their potentiality!
In hunger, in a sort of neglect
with empty pots for feet and hands
with clubs
with octopusal stares wherein
all the world is unfolding
It is terrifying to sit for one moment with the eyes of these children
This is not a marketing piece
This is not a hobby!
Do you hear me out there!?!

            is not




Each time I shout that out it comes back as a silence
I still have not explained to myself
where everyone has gone that used to be here
on the precipice of marbles
with God and I
You have to live a life different than other people you know.
Sometime awhile ago you changed everything.
You learned extreme limitation.
You learned to suffer and act like you weren’t.
You can’t remember when this happened.
You see a woman on the street jogging with a walkman and
you think she is more free than you are.
You feel jealous.
The hounds come out.
You are so tired.
You want to jog.
You are so tired.
Driving an old car to a parking lot in front of a school in evening
you walk to a school door
There you will meet a wise kindergarten teacher
The parents all look younger than you
Their eager faces say that their children are brilliant already
Your children are already old somehow
You are tired.
This is a happy place
You remember that you haven’t brushed your hair
You notice the clothes you are all wearing
all but a few seem to shop at Sears
You seem to shop at Sears even though you don’t
You notice that kindergarten teacher’s hair is not brushed either
It is a happy place
where your children will cut at small tables
Their names will be written on yellow balloons
It is a small happy place
and above it shine
the evening stars.

They have held me like a piper, piping
They hold me like a fiddler, playing
against the fatigue of a dancing dragon to dawn
fatigue with anger and desperation in it
is an old story
I don’t march against it
The daily theft becomes a simple tax
Something carried in buried flames
The captor of the self is agony, saying
“Sing us the songs of Zion”
This is a strange harp with horsehair strings
there is a cross on it to catch tears
there is a puppeteer, a master of ceremonies
a ghost of semi-colons shouting in the alley wind
“There is more than this!”
There is more than blood and bone dancing
in small pointed shoes through these mornings of despair
more than the eyes of lost calves
there are cranes with trumpets flying over the woods
there are telephones ringing in parks
and someone at a distance waiting for answer
There are certain things the heart is called to do
staying courses
loving earth
walking into fields of mercy
bearing torrents of change
In all these things there is desire
for minister, balm
Where the world touches too deeply
the spirit receives its catalyst
the worm turns
there is glimmer and  movement in the stone chambers
and what is called forward 
cannot be predicted
To love is to risk armed angel and beast
So we crawl forward this way
not knowing which way the judgments
clawed or winged
will see it 
Staking what we will on the next horse
not knowing if it is winged or cloven
Risking in brilliant illness the very bodies we have created
to know the truth
I want to live on land that is not weeping
with trees that are not stranded like forlorn acrobats.
I want to live in a place where the land is made love to
and something goes down into it
and something else comes back up from it
and there is the feeling that love on this earth
can be accomplished,
not like this life of mowed grass
where all is cropped and framed too perfectly
against a stale structure
that only needs a thick line for a horizon
 to sit on
I am talking about a penetrable earth. 
I am talking about a life that loves
and is willing to penetrate like roots do
and to be surprised at what is there
and to yield to what does not want to be there. 
I am talking about Briar rows,
the thickets of trees by neglected fields.
A farmhouse  sitting a certain way on its foundation
 Carpets of small flowers in spring
 vines like wild hair
and the sumptuous clusters of things
in a riot of completely determined sexuality. 
Let me live there
There are always six debt collectors at the door asking
Twice a day I go to the window and ask
when the next train is coming
It seem like years since anything has stopped here
I send small birds out the back window to them
Take this.
Is this enough?
Is this enough?
Meanwhile, inside there is a brutish man snoring
and a coffin with children dancing around it
So we live on certain days on dry crust
on fire bread, or on heart alone
On certain days like this the sadness of the family
penetrates so deeply
it almost seems to be the only real thing
even though we can imagine the truth
even though our memory serves us otherwise
even though we know that God’s red hair
might look very much like the frayed carpet
you hauled out to beat just yesterday
and that the dust cloud you see moving down the road
might well be the sisters of mercy
driving a horse and cart full of flowers
coming to deliver you
I was thinking the other night:  I have time.
I have 10 minutes waiting for my daughter to get out of gymnastics.  I have time in the car on my way to pick up my son.  Once a month or so, I will get home from work and the house will be empty for some reason for as much as 15 minutes.
It is hard to know what to do with time found like this.  Not enough to get somewhere and back again.  Not enough for the trip out you long for.  Enough to develop a small fantasy.
When you find time like this, don’t waste it!  Don’t spend the first 10 minutes making lists of what to do and the last five minutes deciding!  Drop your bags!  Run!  Find a spot on the floor and kneel there before someone discovers you.  Quick! Quick! Go find the underground fountain with your diving rod.  Grab a spade quickly!  You don’t have much time before you are discovered.  Dig with the invisible spade through the invisible floor.  And when the font of water comes spouting, limping, lay in it.  Soak yourself.  There is time. 
And when the children come limping loudly in, dropping their bags.   Yell to them from the floor “Close the door!” and “How was your day?”
Mom, even you are silent now
Even your horsehair broom sits bound in a corner
and I almost know my love for you
Love that has brought me short-handed to skill and wit
Love for you that has drug us both along like corpses
or broken fingernails into some proverb
Love is a problem
Looking at the day when I will hold you truly in joy
that I will laugh with you
that it will all be ok whatever we both did
I am looking at that day (which isn’t now)
knowing even today that it exists somewhere
on the plain of loss and freedom
we are traveling on together
A chorus of rage rises
in a muscular wave to infuse the common day
The legion of fierce and beautiful women
who have existed somewhere in shame are now carrying a banner
Over this wave like august wheat, their voices rise
and I know that I have not come to do a common thing
Sexual woundedness is carried in the deepest fiber of history
and repeated in every life with precision
This pain breaks over the face of my son and suddenly
he isn’t mine
The daughters are shrivened onto the face of a false god.
Shame is reborn and then swallowed whole
Adults have already swallowed it
Adolescents are still staring in horror at their plates
at what has been served them by their bodies
And in this morning
 like all of the rest
we agree to continue
consecrating the broken promise
nested uneasily in a raw body
at the core of love
Living deeply into the experience of the female, you say,
you have finally found a stone.
This is a place of touching
the bottom of a long nightmare only beginning to end
The men I have carried
the women that have carried me appear in a chorus with a message:
The long anguish can be mended
but in the mending, receive some pain
There are many marks on the moon from rocks thrown there
The first moment of mending is a survey of the damage
but this is so deep and long
how will it not consume me?
Well, anyway, I refuse to think that the moon is merely female anymore
It is over.
The deep sexual wound of the world is within us to be reconciled
not spun out anymore in fantasies onto the planets or written onto worm faces
In the kitchen argument of the male and female inside of us
What is being said? 
Who is winning?
And how, seeker, will they kindle their love
even as consciousness is ripping open the basement vaults
and criminality is pouring out of them with guns
and the blood of memory still on their faces
is painted for war?
Well, it is raining and the Hassidic men wear plastic bags over their hats 
while the men in the seats behind me
talk disrespectfully about women
dirty comments
and I feel like I hate New York 
I feel like I have swallowed something I haven’t understood
that has transformed me disfigured
I feel like a pauper
With my husband I have shared my wealth
In him it became concrete
We have eaten because of this unique wedding
With my husband I have shared my wealth and my pebbles
we have eaten them
I say, we have eaten them and become
we have eaten them and become disfigured, transformed, tatooed,
inundated like lice in a flood, paddling 
With my husband I have shared my death
found the limits of my generosity
I have found the strange marriage of meal, water and heat
We have baked a cake, a porridge
Here is your spoon
In this dry place of udders, my marriage is baking
and I am full of sadness for the world
its strangeness
the strangeness of the city with the myriad naïve corruptions and foul glances
with the innocence of evil hanging loosely, cloud-like in the haze brought about
by the moving automobiles
I am hating them for the stupidity of this fornication
for the cheap amusements just as dark
and I have no compassion today because I am sick of compassion
I am sick of holding the space for tears in a place without them
What happens when you have forgotten wisdom
and are still squatting here even after all of these years
on a heap of rubbish
to put on your makeup and clip your nails?
What happens when you forget what earth feels like?
New York you are awash with your fermented debris
and I have given you my children
to grow up in you proudly
I do not understand the engine of your waste
or how many forms this  striving makes in just one day
I am not sure where to find the road to sanctity
how to set up the blessed manger on this ground
whether hate or love is housed in your great bossom
or what is housed in mine living here
meagerly within
The workday comes
Joanne comes
The children walk out the door trailing papers
Trailing their different worries
different memories of different wars
in half-contact with small beasts they have known
with or without lunch money
matched or unmatched
loving and hating in tender duress
the weight of all they are growing into:
their large shoes
Above them, look
The swimming fishes of their thoughts are holding small conferences
making deals with each other
The buyers and sellers are in the temple
The stinking part of me sometimes pretends to be Christ
throwing them out
It’s a mess
Ah, well
How much can I know about love in such a short time?
The swimming fishes of their thoughts factored me in long ago
as some kind of natural disaster
There are already building codes buffeting the effects of my dissolutions
And so it goes under the wide skied morning
As the many buses stop to open the many doors.
These fights are like chores
Like garbage duty or dusting
Maybe I have a cold coming on
maybe I have not prayed enough
I swim against the rising tide of resentment
that now is not ten years ago
and I have had to live through the hell
of not understanding my hell
that just keeps unfolding
I am angry, like a single parent whose ex does not show up for the kids
I maintain more irritation as I cook
I feel more trapped and more desperate
I feel that I am entitled to something
I don’t know why
My eyes burn from onions
My hands are red
So much of this living is desperate
then suddenly,
a pearl drops out of it
What is all of this walking in circles?
What is all of this chewing of meat?
In this country
The red sun is an orphan sulking off over the hill
What is all of this minced chocolate
Walking around looking for love?
I am looking for love
The life in me is not in chopping the onions
There is something else there stretching upward
with arms into pockets of vapor
What is all of this stretching?
I am pressing this river of hope that runs sideways
I carry pain across the field like a wounded soldier
But I am not that soldier
The heart carries the wounded soldier of form
as the mother of all wounded life
carries a young and sleeping angel
through the pale dust storm
through the cold blaze
the raging rivers of sin
I am afraid of this subversive heart
The strings twanging loudly and strangely
in rooms they walk into
It changes dances, angers crowds
It challenges rhythms or competes
Everything changes
But the heart beats on wearing itself out
It wafts large dinner plates out of itself
like a sleeping minions 
A cook in there is busy
and though there are takers for these meals
there is seldom payment
because we all ate free at a mother’s breast once
or longed for one
Forgetting that we are adults
we demand that the breast shop continue to serve
lunch to beggars, and then sue for indigestion!
Really!  That is how it works.
It is a pain to have boobs like this.
I am always tired.
But my love just won’t stop coming in.
In ordinary time
I am not your mother
I am the barking lout at your heels,
a deranged Madonna wielding a kitchen knife
kicking teeth out of combs
cursing molded vegetables
In ordinary time
I am not a white nun whispering in tiny shoes
I am a lumbering giant with a pick ax
Spitting heads of cabbage from his teeth
Who ever said that this pulp of morning music
was made of love is a lunatic
It is wrought in rage and isolation
in the vain grumblings of someone suspended
in a strange idea like a lifeboat
Many years go by
Still, water in all directions
This is not cat music
This is not the sighing of a pathetic dog
This is not funny
There were plenty of signs from those before you
There were skulls and crossbones in the clouds
but you heard wailing in the waters
older voices called like dead nightingales mixed in sea foam
and you jumped after them
the ship taking off quickly in its own direction
Oh sow in a lifeboat, your rage is your food
You spit up and swallow your salt water
Like a heifer spews his grass
In ordinary time, all of this is true
There is hate and salt guts and the black dark tears
of a jeweled infant gleaming cruelly in your direction
But child it is not always ordinary time
Once in a while when the wind shifts
We hear an old tune that we both knew
playing down some chimney pipe into a fire
And in those embers is your face
It is no longer possible to say the word mother
The word walks with a dark cadaver on its shoulder
a string of cauldrons
One day we woke up and it was there
we all deny that it is heavy
and meanwhile each one throws the shadow of their dead uncle on top of it
or anything else they would like to be rid of.
This word has walked so many miles in sooty air
that it has collected death in each of its little sooty mouths
the residue of crushed moth wings.  Death.
When you walk through the world with this word
(and if it has found you don’t struggle, you won’t be rid of it)
you collect used matchsticks and bedsprings
in a plastic bathtub of half-rotted pictures
until you don’t remember how many dead aunts
and grandmothers rest in the worlds’ great laundry tub
you don’t remember why you are tired
It is the moron mascot of neglect and pity
that sits before your mirror, so large
so large that it is utterly invisible, dark
as a gunpowder sky.
So hated that every scampering elf is shocked
and runs for its life
Mother, whose life is blood,
clear your good name!
Throw it off like a bag of Russian potatoes!
And when the forest floor shudders
watch a million acorns erupting
hear the springs of music from artesian minefields
that come rushing
into your bath
like wild tornadoes
like lost sons returning
Like my mother before me
I rewire lights and fix the vacuum sweeper
Like her I clean in rage, not piety
My standards are never low enough for afternoon tea
or peace in the house
Like her I fight poverty every minute of the day,
in stacks of newspapers, shopping bags, broom sweepings
salvaging dry glinting objects out of dust
apple halves,
Like her, I don’t put on jogging shoes
I step out the door in shock of the sun
don’t go to the movies
prefer work to T.V.
Feeding people makes us both anxious
she takes it into cooking
I don’t know what I do
I torture my husband in different ways than she does
sometimes the same
Like her mother before her, she introduced me to the dark imp
that lived with a scythe in our shrubbery
he hates me too
and lives outside my house now by a large pile of pigeon bones,
which is amazing when you consider
how small he really is
My mother sings in church choirs
and writes devotionals for meetings of religious women
I guess I do that too.
She doesn’t write poems,
she mutters conversations into bathroom mirrors.
Same thing
Like her I search each day
for a face
and a name
Certain trees enjoy your company
You can see them from a distance calling out
Others are different
They are as if in deep conversations with things and
your presence interrupts them
Like me, perhaps,
they yearn for their children on some days
and on some they yearn for contact with beings
more subtle than children
Still, dear trees, do not begrudge me my seat here
You called for me
and the island of time that I have with you is so small
Down in the valley I can hear them calling
Mom, Mom
But I have climbed to you to gather them something better
than the mornings’ common loot
or the few hairs ritually pulled from my head
I have come to borrow a secret from your roots
Here, accept this secret from mine
Let’s share the wisdom we have both gained
from knowledge of constriction and drought
Let the wind blow
Let there be commerce between us
After the days and weeks of strife
over what you have not done
and the ways that you are not conforming
to this world’s measure
I finally took the handle off the axe and set it down
admiring the flames erupting
all around your adolescent frame
that refuses to bend to my perfunctory hacking.
Convinced that the shaping was done by my hands
I failed to notice your roots
Intertined as they are with mine
Needing no instruction, no chisel, no twine
Of course things fall away in these times
Of course
It is not the intelligence that matters
It is what is held in the space
where the intelligence is swept away
I am holding a small winged thing
a new dove
a baby wren
a shaking thing with newborn lamb’s legs
rivers of infant blood are running through it
Waiting for an anointment or a message
in my house I am surprised to find a different order
the order the heart brings to action
Small footsteps are new to me and
even in my husbands sighs
I hear love
My eyes are opening to graciousness
fallen like spring pollen
My ears are awake to the sound of thin glass straws
some breaking
some whistling in this strange wind moving
through the hollow shafts of God’s hair
In this world you are blind
You live
gathering information by bumping into tables
or on the wisps of light brought to you by the speech of others
You experience even light as texture
You draw strange conclusions from your heart
that climb up into your throat like suitors for your only daughter
In the respiration of this love your palate changes
It is hard to know how to feel in this land without sun
It is hard to know which hand is moving
Which way is forward or the nature of certain colors
faded as they are on the backdrop of this evenings love
There is a deep burning here
The great bonfire of the soul is blazing in the rite of purification


I am a gift to the world of deep melancholy and some strain of light
Like a lotus thread
a strange marriage of water and stone
Water runs through me like a river through a cave
the blood of estranged brothers
Like saints in a lifeboat together
or twins of deeply divergent natures paired in opposition
so am I
Out of this strain and the life I have woven of it
comes something I don’t recognize:
a costume
Who knows how I float on this river of flowers with stones in my heart
how I sit in some kind of beauty as I say strange things and mean them
how I have swallowed these stones and said thank you
or lived a life in their care
without sinking